BELLEVUE DINER (61 Bellevue, at Nassau, 416-597-6912) A former working-class Kensington dive gets transformed into an attitude-free eatery with reasonably priced fare bordering on haute from a Cordon Bleu-trained chef. Throw in downtown's soon-to-be hottest patio and watch this place explode.
Complete meals for $35 per person ($17 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for lunch Tuesday to Friday noon to 4 pm, for dinner Tuesday to Sunday 6 to 11 pm, for brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 4 pm. Bar open to 2 am. Closed Monday. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
if you're so smart, how come you're not rich? Since you know so much about the business, why don't you open your own restaurant? Knowing what I know about the pitfalls of the fickle food industry, I invest my money in a sure thing -- my sock drawer.
Unlike me, Eugene Barone is smart and successful. The owner of Bar Italia, College Street's longest-running and most successful eatery, Barone recently purchased a dingy Portuguese dive on the fringe of Kensington Market, gave the place a much-needed overhaul and turned it over to his savvy former assistant manager, Vicky Poulakakis.
Poulakakis has assembled a talented team of vets from Cafe La Gaffe's original Market location. It includes Craig Dehne, a local chef who spent the last seven years in London cooking at Brit seafood institutions like Sheekey's and Scotts of Mayfair. He also managed to fit in a few courses at the Cordon Bleu, and, boy, does it show!
Perfectly pan-roasted cod ($15.95) is a thick, translucent fillet o' fish offset by smashed spuds tinted green by tasty pistou.
Alongside are delicious grilled ribbons of zucchini and a lengthwise section of Italian eggplant next to a coarse tomato concassé zested with lemon and topped by a basil chiffonade and crushed coriander seeds.
Dehne revises Sheekey's legendary salmon cake ($11.95), shaming every other in town.
It's a remarkable mix of both cooked and raw salmon, yogurt, capers, garlic, shallots and dill that's breaded and baked.
It arrives on a mound of mash surrounded by a moat of subtle beurre blanc, the cake crowned by a feathery poached egg whose yolk adds another layer of flavour to this already amazing dish.
A starter of tender calamari rings contrasted with spicy chorizo and peppery arugula leaves ($6.95) prepares the palate for five slices of pink-rare duck sauced with an intense demi-glace and garnished with sultanas and pine nuts ($18.95).
A grilled puck of firm polenta and a side of wilted rapini complete a course that typifies chef Dehne's finesse.
Bellevue's lamburger ($9.95) is a summer patio classic. Sandwiched inside a grilled Portuguese bun spread with minty yogurt, this thick, juicy patty gets sided by first-rate greens doused in citrus vinaigrette and a pile of awesome twice-cooked fries. A request for mayo brings a ramekin of homemade marjoram-scented aioli. Take that, Mr. Hellman!
The following Sunday, we're back for a late-morning brunch. While the Bellevue is romantic under the stars, by day its sunny patio offers the full effect.
The wind whispers through the trees and the Reverend Al Green testifies softly on the CD player. The word's out: it's only week two and every one of the red-and-white-gingham-topped tables is taken.
Boring old pancakes (all brunch dishes $8) at the Bellevue become a stack of buttery flapjacks slathered with whipped cream and strawberry coulis.
Eggs Benedict sees a pair of English muffins layered with steamed spinach, a poached egg each and lemony hollandaise.
More mesclun and creamy home fries -- next time I'll substitute with those fantastic regular fries -- make this brunch staple twice as big a portion as served elsewhere.
Smart? You betcha. Rich? Bling-bling!
susur lee is heeding my advice. I'd found his six-course $130 tasting menu at Susur so filling that halfway through I felt as full as a force-fed foie gras goose. He tells me that he now presents his spread in reverse. No, he doesn't serve dessert first. He begins with the entrees, tapers off with successively smaller dishes and ends with the sweets.
Lee presents this radical rethink at a prestigious James Beard Foundation dinner in New York City next Thursday, July 12.
Any time, Mr. Lee. @@@@@